May 28th, 2006
It is fitting this Memorial Day, 35 years after the events chronicled below, that we can finally honor the heroics of a few brave men who, in the name of U.S. security, have kept to their vows of silence. Lesser warriors, when faced with the corrosive criticism these men have endured in the past few years, would have cracked and screamed, â€œChickenhawk? Youâ€™re damn right I am! Hereâ€™s what Chickenhawk means.â€
In the autumn of 1971, Master Sergeant Whitey Small, 7th Special Forces, accepted a call from President Richard M. Nixon. He was given the names of eleven young men, hand-picked by the White House, to mold into a special operations squad in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. The undertaking was secret beyond all statutes of limitation. Phone records uncovered in Quang Tri indicate the call lasted 18 and 1/2 minutes. Sergeant Small had kept a diary but lost it in the North when they abandoned camp as it was being attacked by friendly fire. The diary was returned this past February by a young Vietnamese woman who found it in her grandfatherâ€™s hooch.
Tuesday, 10/2/71 — First two boys off the chopper, I can see thereâ€™s an unhealthy relationship. The white oneâ€™s got the black one down doing pushups. I rush in and get their names. â€œOkay, Scalia,â€ I holler over the chopper downwash, â€œwhat say you let me boss Thomas around from here on in.â€ Sure enough, three hours later, I got to separate these men again. Before long, these two settle down and Thomas gains some independence. But not a whole lot.
I take roll. â€œAs I call your name, jump up and do a back flip, followed by 100 pushups: Frist… Oâ€™Reilly… Cheney…. Hastert…â€ I repeat, â€œCheney… Hastert.â€ Cheney and Hastert are AWOL already. Iâ€™d watched eleven men offload the Huey, now I see nine. I finish up, â€œFalwell…Libby… Limbaugh… Lott…. Scalia… Rove… Thomas.â€
A featureless boy hustles back into the bivouac area. Itâ€™s Cheney, followed by Hastert. Iâ€™d have cracked down super hard but theyâ€™ve got three gunny sacks full of capons, necks freshly twisted. They raided the chicken farm a couple clicks up into the highlands. Weâ€™d all gone without food for 36 hours, me included, so I wasnâ€™t about to light into them this time.
We ate good that night. Next morning Cheney explained the technique â€“ good chicken-thief, bad chicken-thief. After that, we all teamed up, but nobody could make it work like those two. We start calling ouselves the Chickenhawks.
Wednesday, 10/3/71 — 1,500 meters altitude. Thick banyan. Macaques everywhere. Of course, to Limbaugh, theyâ€™re all just monkeys. He baits and teases them. No respect for Godâ€™s plan. I say, â€œRush, you sure like to flap your gums â€“ fine if youâ€™re gonna be a nudie show barker or something, but here in â€˜Nam, keep your yap shut.â€
I sit the boys down on some felled trees. Time to tell them why theyâ€™re here. â€œLot of folks think we should bomb the commies back into the stone age.â€ That sinks in and they all share a sounds-right-to-me look. â€œNaturally, our President is keeping that option open, but he has a little insight into the nature of society that the Curtis LeMays of this world seem to lack. Last week, President Nixon met with top strategic religious leaders and they are of the opinion the reason Ho Chi Minh and his kind are such pills is their Godlessness. Your mission is missionary.â€
Scalia beams and pumps his arm: â€œYes. The reconnection of Church and State.â€ He and Falwell high five.
â€œNot so fast, gentlemen,â€ I say, â€œThe number one most difficult thing you fellows are going to have to accept is the need for absolute secrecy. And the Church/State thing is why. So itâ€™s total hush-hush. Not just now, or even when the warâ€™s over, but forever. No matter how elevated your eventual station in life, this operation stays under wraps. Your physical, moral, psychological, and spiritual courage will never be acknowledged by a grateful country. And thatâ€™s gonna hurt.â€
Friday, 10/5/71 — Weâ€™re 80 kilometers into the mountains from the coastal city of Ha Tin. North Vietnam is maybe three days away. Weâ€™re camped by a stream, barely deep and wide enough for a man to wash up in. Cheney swims in place for hours against a three mile an hour current. Heâ€™s volunteered to infiltrate Hanoi by swimming upriver from Phu Ly. Thatâ€™s 70 kilometers in water so polluted from the Viet Cong chemical weapons manufacturing plants that it may affect his cardiac health for life. Thatâ€™s just Cheney. I wonder if I can expect the same level of dedication from the rest of these nutbags. But things are looking up — in a modified, limited way.
Sunday, 10/7/71 — No Jews in this crowd, so we hold religious services today. I go for a non-denominational type thing, but each of these guys seem to have a passion for one brand of Christianity or another. Who knows, maybe I can learn something.
Scaliaâ€™s Catholicism grates on me. â€œWhatâ€™s Opus Dei?â€ I ask, but he gets evasive. Makes some rude gesture that I, as a Christian Scientist, would rather not describe. Then thereâ€™s Falwellâ€™s fundamentalist blather. It makes me itch. I pray for my intolerance to be removed. And it is.
No chicken up here, so Sunday dinner is Macaque. Thomas loves it deep fried, so he spends four hours chopping down palms for oil to fry it in. But itâ€™s Limbaugh who eats the lionâ€™s share.
Monday, 10/8/71 — Lottâ€™s tongue! I tell him â€œYou feel you gotta call them â€˜gooksâ€™, thatâ€™s just too bad. Our allies in the south donâ€™t like it, so if you canâ€™t say something non-racist, like â€˜ARVN soldier,â€™ then donâ€™t say anything at all.â€
Tuesday 10/9/71 –Just one week on the job. Oâ€™Reilly and Limbaugh have done a great job mastering the language. I give them a handful of pills. â€œAs soon as you destroy the piers at Lac Ninh, take these blue tabs. Itâ€™s sodium anti-pentathol, the forgetting drug. It comes highly recommended â€“ Ronald Reagan used it during his secret missions in WWII. If youâ€™re captured, we canâ€™t have the Cong thinking you speak Vietnamese.â€
Wednesday, 10/10/71-- Cheneyâ€™s in the river by now. Oâ€™Reilly and Limbaugh are probably setting their charges. Thomas, Frist and Hastert are carrying Falwell on a litter to a high place from which he can descend on Hanoi, Good Book in hand. Only Lott, Rove, and Scalia remain unassigned. I keep them at my side, telling them we need to brainstorm Church and State issues. I didnâ€™t expect to be able to trust everybody with a real assignment. Eight for eleven isn’t bad.
Friday, 10/12/71 — Weâ€™re hit by friendly fire, B-52s unload just north of the border and nobody reaches his objective. Cheneyâ€™s treading water while his pores suck up a scum of atrazine poison — it could shut his circulatory system down. And itâ€™s certain to have long term effects on his heart. But you wonâ€™t hear him talk about that. The good news is, everybody makes it back.
But Falwell loses his Good Book. And that bums us out. But then we think of that Holy Bible lying in a bombed out part of the forest. Itâ€™s a seed. We planted it, by golly. And it will grow, and if nobody ever knows what the ChickenHawks accomplished, the world will still be a better place.